STARKVILLE, Miss. - Mississippi State rallied to a late lead Thursday night. However, the Bulldogs could not make that lead hold up, falling 61-55 decision to Florida in a Southeastern Conference women's basketball game played at the Humphrey Coliseum.
Florida (13-4 overall, 2-1 SEC) won its eighth straight in the series. MSU (8-8, 0-3) will head back to the road still seeking its first conference win after two hard-fought defeats at home.
The Bulldogs trailed by nine points with 8:29 left in regulation. MSU scored the game's next 10 points. However, once a 52-51 lead was grabbed by MSU with 4:30 left, Florida closed out the win with six straight points.
"I am disappointed because we deserved to win today," MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. "I am proud of the kids. You have to score down the stretch to win a game. My job is to get the team home and I didn't get them home today.
"No one is going to feel sorry for us," Schaefer said. "We had several nice stats. We had several reasons why we should have won the game. It hurts when you let the other team win the game at the foul line. We grabbed the one-point lead and we let them drive right to the basket and make a layup. It hurts because we were right there."
For a second-straight contest, the Bulldogs came on the bitter end of an intensely physical contest. MSU was called for 29 fouls, compared to 15 by Florida. The Gators attempted 39 free throws, while the Bulldogs attempted seven free throws.
MSU made more field goals than its opponent for a second straight contest. The Bulldogs also committed a season-low 10 turnovers.
The Bulldogs did struggle on offense out the gate. MSU managed only two field goals over the first nine minutes of play and quickly trailed 14-5.
The Maroon and White found some answers offensively and used a 13-4 run to tie the contest 18. Florida scored the game's next five points before another tie at 23-23.
Florida ended the half on a 7-2 run and led 30-25 at the intermission.
"Sometimes I think we get too relaxed on offense," MSU sophomore center Martha Alwal, who blocked two shots to take second place in MSU career records, said. "We got to be more focused and make sure we run the right play every time. We did good enough defensively to give ourselves a chance."
In the second half, the Gators used their size advantage underneath to extend the lead. The Bulldogs were whistled for seven fouls in the first four minutes of the half, allowing the Gators to spend the balance of the contest in bonus free-throw situations.
The Gators attempted 28 second-half free throws and ran the lead to 38-30 early in the second half. The lead would grow to as many as nine at 51-42 on a free throw by Kayla Lewis with 8:29 left.
Back-to-back 3-point baskets by Kendra Grant, who scored a career-high 23 points, brought the Bulldogs to within one at 51-50. A jumper by Shamia Robinson pushed the Maroon and White ahead for the first time in the second half.
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 22 of 65 shots from the field (33.8 percent), 5 of 12 shots from 3-point range (41.7 percent) and 6 of 7 shots from the foul line (85.7 percent). The Gators hit 17 of 44 shots from the field (38.6 percent), 2 of 7 shots from 3-point range (28.6 percent) and 25 of 39 shots from the foul line (64.1 percent).
Florida held a 47-30 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 13 assists and 10 turnovers, while the Gators had seven assists and 19 turnovers.
Alwal led MSU with her seventh double-double of the season, collecting 17 points and 12 rebounds. Grant's 23-point effort led all scorers.
Florida received 17 points from Jaterra Bonds, 12 points from Lewis and 10 points each from Vicky McIntyre and Sydney Moss.
MSU returns to the road Sunday with a contest at LSU. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. from the Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La.